It could be easy for the Colorado Avalanche to overlook its final game before the four-day All-Star break. Time away from the rink, back home with family and friends, and maybe a quick trip to a warm location awaits most players in the league this weekend.
But for a club that has said it's disappointed for only getting four points during the recent five-game road trip, tonight's 8 p.m. contest against the Boston Bruins presents an opportunity to regain some confidence before the rest and relaxation begins.
"The Bruins are playing very good hockey lately, and it seems like they're back on the winning track," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy of Boston, who has won six of its last seven contests. "We'll have to be ready for them at the start of the game. Everything we have been doing has been short term, and we have been trying to stay even-keel after every win, every loss, and make sure that we're ready for the next challenge."
Both Colorado and Boston held optional morning skates at Pepsi Center today as the Avs had a full practice yesterday while the Bruins played in Dallas last night, a game they won 3-1 despite being outshot 37-27.
Facing a tired Eastern Conference team playing in its second game of a back-to-back out West is a chance for Colorado to gain some ground in its hunt for a postseason spot. The Avs entered the day five points out of a playoff position.
"This is a big game for us. As far as the standings go, this will keep us right in it and give us some confidence going into the end of the break," said defenseman Tyson Barrie. "Any time you play at home in front of a big crowd, it's a lot of fun. We want to get these fans a win."
The Avs went 1-2-2 on the recent trip, but despite the losing mark, Roy wasn't entirely disappointed with his squad. Two of the losses came in shootouts, and Colorado only gave up three or more regulation goals once during the nine-day excursion.
"I thought we cut down on scoring chances quite a bit," Roy said of the road trip. "We gave up less than three goals in four of them, and the only game we gave up more than two goals actually was three against the Blues [last game]. If we keep the teams on the road to two goals against per game, I like our chances to win the hockey game."
Another solid defensive effort and a little offensive explosion would help the Avs tonight against a squad that ranks 22nd in scoring at 2.6 goals per game.
Colorado only scored 10 times during the five games on the recent trip, and forward Matt Duchene—who is tied for the Avalanche lead with 13 goals—said the team knows it has to find its groove again in that all-important category.
"We had a lot of chances. We are just not converting," Duchene said of the club's offense recently. "I think we have been really up and down offensively this year. We want to find that up swing."
Finding that offense and finishing the unofficial end of the first half of the season with a victory can also make the following four days a lot more enjoyable.
"You got to take care of business," Duchene said. "We have to be professionals and take care of things right now. This is a big game for us, and we want to go into the break on a high note."
AVS LOOKING FOR POWER-PLAY BURST
Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie isn't going to sugarcoat it. The team's power play hasn't been good enough this season.
Colorado ranks 27th in the NHL at 14.1 percent and has only two power-play goals in its last 17 man-advantage opportunities.
"It's struggling. I think we're 14 percent on the year, and that's not good enough," Barrie said. "We're trying to figure it out, and I think it comes down to simplifying and executing. We have to make the plays when they are there. Power play can be so big in a game, and we're trying to fix that."
To simplify the power play, Barrie said the team needs to be less fancy and just shoot the puck more. That is how Colorado scored its previous power-play goal last Thursday against the Florida Panthers, from a shot near the blue line by Nick Holden.
"Sometimes we tend to try and make the perfect play or look for the perfect goal or whatever it is," Barrie said. "When you look at the big goal that we scored against Florida, it was just a shot from the point with a good screen. I think you look at a lot of successful power plays, and that's how most of them do the damage."
Colorado will have its hands full tonight as Boston killed off all six power plays in Dallas and is 33-for-35 in its past nine games.
"Obviously, they are having some success on [the penalty kill]. They are a good defensive team," Barrie said. "We looked at it this morning, and we have a game plan on what we want to do. It kind of all starts by getting shots on the net and creating some momentum for our team."
Alex Tanguay—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog—Ryan O'Reilly—Nathan MacKinnon
Cody McLeod—John Mitchell—Dennis Everberg
Maxime Talbot—Marc-Andre Cliche—Daniel Briere
Jan Hejda—Erik Johnson
Nate Guenin—Tyson Barrie
Nick Holden—Brad Stuart